RSA Fellow Pamela Roberts achieves a plaque to commemorate Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black scholar at the University of Oxford
Pamela Roberts FRSA is an award-winning creative producer, historian, playwright, author and the Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories. She has worked hard to raise the profile of pioneering Black scholars at University of Oxford from the turn of the twentieth century to present day both through her work at Black Oxford and her book Black Oxford, The Untold Stories of Oxford University's Black Scholar (Signal 2013). Pamela brought Cole to the attention of the Master of University College, Sir Ivor Crew, and the Colleges’ Governing Body in 2015.
Cole was born in 1852 in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. He enrolled at University College as a non-collegiate student in 1873. Cole read for an Honours degree in Classics. To supplement his income from his uncle, Cole, a talented musician, taught music lessons, Responsions, the first of three examinations once required for an academic degree at the University, as well as preparing students for the divinity exam, which they had to pass to graduate.
“During his time at Oxford the income from his uncle eventually stopped,” explains Director of Black Oxford, Pamela Roberts. “The Master at the time George Granville Bradley elicited support from others including H. J. Gladstone to ensure he could stay.”
Cole achieved a fourth in Greats in 1876: he became the first Black African to achieve a degree from the University of Oxford. In 1877, he became a full member of the College, and in 1879, a member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar in1883 becoming the first Black African to practice Law in English Courts 1884.
Pamela said, “Cole’s presence, from a historical context, presented an unfamiliar narrative of Black scholars at the University of Oxford. Today, his achievements still have a contemporary significance and impact; in particular for a younger generation in illustrating a sense of the past and what is possible. Through my work and research with Black Oxford Untold Stories, one of the most important points that are evident are children and young people, from all backgrounds and ethnic groups, need to have knowledge and awareness about the representation at the University of Oxford, and the unlimited range of opportunities available to them. The placing of a plaque, in Logic Lane, opposite the Law Library, will not only be a visible and permanent commemoration of Cole’s time at University College. it will also represent and acknowledge the College’s early Black presence. The unveiling ceremony will take place on Saturday 14 October 2017at University College, Oxford.